More year-end awards today! Jim and Greg embark on the second half of their six-episode saga known as the 2019 Three Martini Lunch Awards. Today, they offer up their selections for the best political idea, worst political idea, and boldest political tactics for the year.
The man who led the Trump transition’s landing team at the Environmental Protection Agency is hailing the administration for rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that he says would restrict consumer freedom, weaken vehicle safety, and have a much more limited impact on the environment than activists claim.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the shelving of the standards which required all cars and light trucks to have a fleet-level fuel efficiency of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Proponents of the rule say it would help the environment and speed up innovation in the auto industry in addition to lowering fuel bills.
But Myron Ebell, who spearheaded the Trump transition at EPA, says the real consequence of the rule would be the erosion of freedom.
“I think it’s a nightmare for consumers because what the government has done by vastly increasing the fuel economy standards is to tell consumers, ‘We don’t care what you want in a car and we don’t care how much it costs. We just care that it gets really good gas mileage. So that’s what you’re going to be able to buy,” said Ebell.
Ebell is also director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He says the mandate was already driving up auto prices.
“Since these new standards were adopted in the Obama administration in the last four or five years, cars have already gone up a lot, several thousand dollars for the same car,” said Ebell.
Improvements in engine manufacturing have already led to greater fuel efficiency in recent decades, but Ebell says it’s obvious how consumers are approaching those improvements.
“Engines have been getting more efficient right along but drivers have been buying cars that use that greater efficiency to buy a bigger car or a faster car,” said Ebell.
Bigger and faster is not what we’d get under the old Obama rules.
“If they wanted to buy a car they could afford (starting in 2025), they would be faced with buying a much smaller car, a much lighter car, a much less powerful engine. Consequently, it wouldn’t meet the needs of a lot of people. Moreover, a smaller and lighter car is much safe,” said Ebell.
Ebell suspects the Obama administration thought demand for such vehicles would be high if gas prices hadn’t come back down.
“The guess was in the Obama administration that, ‘We can make this work because we’re going to drive up the price of gasoline. And once gasoline gets to be six, seven, eight dollars a gallon, people will all want to buy much more fuel efficient cars and the additional cost of those cars they’ll be able to save in gas costs,'” said Ebell.
“But with gasoline under three dollars a gallon, people want the performance and they want the size. They’re willing to spend a certain amount each week on gasoline and they want a bigger and better car,” he added.
He is also skeptical of environmentalists’ claims that the Obama EPA rule would reduce greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 140 coal-fired power plants every year.
“All of these claims of savings of any type are always vastly exaggerated and in the end people find that they don’t get as good mileage and that the supposed environmental benefits are less,” said Ebell.
Ebell says the push for electric cars and even no cars by clustering the populace near mass transit options are other efforts to restrict freedom from the left. He lauds Pruitt for doing a “great job” advancing an “ambitious” Trump agenda in deregulating energy policy, especially for heavy industries.
However, he implores Trump to appoint more critical personnel to the EPA and for the Senate to act swiftly on the nominees that have been offered.
While Ebell and others cheer the scrapping of Obama’s fuel economy standards, California and other states plan to fight back. The Clean Air Act allows California to impose more stringent environmental standards than the federal government calls for and other states are attempting to follow suit.
Ebell says California can either toe the line on this or face a bruising court fight.
“The EPA can then move to revoke the waiver that California got from the EPA that allows them to be part of this process. Once the waiver is revoked, California, if they want to set their own standards, will have to go to court and win what would be a very major court victory and one that I doubt that they would win,” said Ebell.
The Trump administration is advancing plans to open up the vast majority of the Outer Continental Shelf to energy exploration and development, a move that a leading national security voice in Congress says will be another major boost to our economy and protect American interests by end any dependence upon rogue states that sit on a lot of oil.
On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he was moving forward with ambitious plans to increase America’s domestic energy supplies.
Zinke says the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program “proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.”
He says that is a dramatic shift from the policies of the Obama administration.
“By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history,” he said.
Wittman says the Obama administration often pointed out that it allowed energy companies to locate deposits of oil and gas but companies refused because they knew the government would deny them leases to actually extract the energy, making the exploration costly and pointless.
Zinke notes that the 47 potential lease sales as part of the Draft Proposed Program, including “19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region.”
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, sits on the House Natural Resources Committee and is thrilled with this development.
“I think this is a giant move,” said Whitman who, unlike some other congressional Republicans, says he would be fine with productive, safe energy production off the coast of his state.
Wittman points out there is much more process to go through to get the production going. There are multiple public comment periods and other hurdles to clear, including putting together the infrastructure to determine where oil and gas can be tapped on the Outer Continental Shelf.
For his district in southeast Virginia, the impact of energy production on the operations of the U.S. Navy will be a key issue to address.
When it does come, he expects the first action to come in the Gulf of Mexico since the infrastructure is better built there.
While activists and lawmakers in both parties worry about the environmental impact, Wittman says the technology is getting better all the time.
“I believe we can put the proper controls into place to protect the environment but also develop our energy offshore. I think this is a significant step forward and certainly cements United States energy security well into the future,” said Wittman.
He says disasters like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion offered many lessons for energy producers.
“There’s been some criticism that the lessons learned in Deepwater Horizon haven’t been put in place in the regulatory realm. I think where that should be reflected is in the permitting realm. Make sure the permitting is there with the proper construction guidelines and protections. Those are absolutely critical,” said Wittman.
He says many critics forget that Deepwater Horizon was a result of human error, trying to stretch equipment beyond what it was capable of doing.
While critics of the plan, including many Democrats, believe our national energy policy ought to be focused on renewable forms of energy, Wittman says reality dictates that this type of exploration and production is essential to meet our needs.
“You’re going to have to have hydrocarbons as part of that future energy portfolio. If we don’t, then we put the United States at a distinct strategic and economic disadvantage. We do not want to do that,” said Wittman, who says efficient production and use of traditional energy sources will provide more time to develop more effective renewable options.
If the Zinke plan does come to fruition, Wittman expects it to be an economic windfall for Virginia and other states.
“For Virginia, it would mean thousands of jobs, not only in the construction but also the maintenance of these rigs. Remember, there are boats that go back and forth to tend these rigs. There are highly skilled technicians that operate these rigs. There’s a whole maritime industry that goes with it,” said Wittman.
Wittman also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs its Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. He says energy production brings national security by providing economic security.
“We have seen in the past when we are at the mercy of nations that don’t like us and are aggressively going after us by trying to kill our men and women around the world that serve this nation in uniform and then we rely on them for our energy. That’s a not a good strategic situation to be in,” said Wittman.
“And it gives us the ability to create better situations around the world because we’re not held hostage to relying on those nations for our energy,” he added.
Congress does not need to authorize the program. However, liberal interest groups are likely to slow it down in court. Wittman denounces lawsuits designed solely to grind policy to a halt. He says the bottom line is that the executive branch has the power to do this regardless of whether all Americans support the plan.